View Full Version : Greta Van Susteren Cleans Up in Aruba

08-08-2005, 09:27 AM
Greta Van Susteren Cleans Up in Aruba

By DAVID BAUDER, AP Television Writer

document.write(getElapsed("20050808T011336Z"));Sun Aug 7, 7:13 PMUPDATED 11 HOURS 43 MINUTES AGO

NEW YORK - Bringing a microphone and camera crew to the gates of an Aruba landfill this past week, Greta Van Susteren returned to the island that her nightly Fox News Channel program has figuratively called home recently. Van Susteren's "On the Record" has relentlessly followed the mysterious disappearance of 18-year-old Natalee Holloway of Alabama while on a graduation trip to Aruba in May.

Critics find it an obsession bordering on the bizarre, twisting traditional notions of news judgment and becoming Exhibit A in the media's fascination with missing people _ as long as they happen to be young, white, female and pretty.

But while doing this, Van Susteren has been rewarded with her biggest audiences since making the switch from CNN three years ago.

She averaged nearly 2.2 million viewers a night in July, up 58 percent from the same period a year ago, according to Nielsen Media Research. CNN's Aaron Brown used to put up a tough fight in the time slot; now Van Susteren routinely triples his audience. She narrowly missed 3 million on July 26, her biggest audience this year.

"On the Record" even topped Fox's prime-time king "The O'Reilly Factor" eight times, although Bill O'Reilly was off on four of those nights.

"I'm always happy when the viewers are happy," Van Susteren said. "I obviously don't program for the people in the newsroom or my friends or the people I went to law school with. I program for the viewers."

It's not just Nielsen that confirms interest in the Holloway story. Van Susteren said she spends an hour or two a day combing through e-mails from viewers on the case, and they often supply her with good questions.

The mystery plays to her strengths as a lawyer.

"For me, it's sort of an intellectual challenge," she said. "Where is she? How did she disappear? Did somebody drop a date rape drug in her drink? Did she walk off? Is this not really a homicide but a missing person? ... I could go on. These are fascinating to me and they're obviously fascinating to the viewers."

Desperate to learn what happened to Natalee, the Holloway family has been grateful for the interest and available to help fill hours of airtime.

"Greta has gone above and beyond to publicize this case and keep people interested," said Paul Reynolds, Natalee's uncle. "Getting involved the way she has been is an incredible effort. She's keeping people interested and keeping people looking."

The Aruban government hasn't been happy with all the coverage, believing much of it makes the authorities look amateurish and unprofessional, but Van Susteren has government spokesman Ruben Trapenberg's respect. "Even though she is aggressive, she will try to get both sides of a story," he said.

The case has all the elements of a classic summer page-turner: the bright-eyed girl whose search for fun may have gone horribly wrong, a privileged Dutch boy who saw her before she disappeared but claims innocence, authorities following several hot and cold leads.

Without being a regular, tuning into Van Susteren's show many nights is like opening up a mystery novel in the middle.

It's all a little baffling to those who didn't buy the book.

"I think she's registered to vote in Aruba now," joked NBC News reporter Josh Mankiewicz, who narrated a "Dateline NBC" report examining why television networks pay an inordinate amount of attention to missing white women.

With war and terrorism in the news, critics wonder how one missing person case can so dominate a news program. Even on the night President Bush nominated John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court, "On the Record" spent far more time on Holloway.

Her name came up 178 times during a computer search of "On the Record" transcripts from the past two months, only seven times for the same period on Keith Olbermann's "Countdown" on MSNBC. The count was 434 times for Fox's three prime-time news shows; 50 for CNN's.

"Emotional pornography like the Natalee Holloway story is more alluring, just as a car crash is better TV than a news conference," said Matthew Felling of the Washington-based Center for Media and Public Affairs. "But this media rubbernecking is partly to blame for the public's dissatisfaction in the media as a newsgathering enterprise."

Two views on how to program a cable news network couldn't be displayed more starkly: Either use news judgment to put events into perspective, or give the people what they want, said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

It's hard to say whether Van Susteren's ratings grew because she spent more time on the case or whether she spent more time on the case because the ratings grew, said Bill Shine, Fox News Channel's vice president of production.

Probably a little of both, he said.

"I don't know what you're doing this weekend, say you're at a beach or in the deli, but what do you think people are going to ask you _ what do you think is going to happen with the Roberts nomination next month or what's going on with that story in Aruba?" Shine said. "I think my money would be on Aruba."

Rosenstiel concedes he can't understand the intense interest in the Holloway story. "It's just a classic tabloid story that they're milking and if that's the way you want to make your living, fine," he said.

Criticism of cable networks for a slavish devotion to a story, whether it merits the attention or not, is nothing new; just insert the names Chandra Levy or Laci Peterson for Holloway. One of many reasons why Fox has been able to soundly beat CNN in the ratings with a considerably smaller news staff is that viewers respond more to this approach.

"Maybe part of their brilliance is they're not as guilt-ridden about it," Rosenstiel said.


It's a sad story. Not worth all the "news' coverage, however. But, Fox is not really a news channel. It's more of an Tabloid and Gossip Channel with some GOP cheerleading mixed in.

08-08-2005, 09:59 AM
Fox News is not a news channel? I assume you mean during primetime. But feel free to bash Fox News if you feel better or funny.

This story is not about news agencies and what they should report. Freedom of the press allows them to report as they deem fit. They also report based on what they think viewers want to see and hear... esp. the Greta and Geraldo type shows. It is based on what those viewers want to see. That helps with ad-dollars... which keeps the boat afloat. Business Admin 101.

I do not blame the shows that report on Aruba and other stories that some find questionable (for whatever reason). I blame the American households who sit on their couches and find it "entertaining". But in this society that is wrapped-up in all these reality TV shows (there are so many) and the Jerry Springer/Maury Povich type shows, I am not shocked.

Like it or not, death/sex have always been attention grabbers. It is the reason that we see "hidden" messages in cigarette and alcohol ads. It is the reason shows like Desparate Housewives are on top of the game. It is the reason that the world wide web is loaded with pornographic images. I guess it is the reason that desparate City Council wannabes in NYC have stooped to the low-level of having exotic dancers to win votes.

So why is Greta still in Aruba? Because the public (or enough of it) eats this stuff up. And don't blame Fox News. All the network news reported on this non-stop in the first month or so. Greta has a show where current events get the topic. Obviously her viewers dig the Aruba thing for whatever reason. She'll ride the wave until her viewer numbers say otherwise. That is how the TV cookie crumbles. Thank God we have 100 other channels of crap to watch!!